A ground invasion of Gaza is imminent, with battles expected to last weeks or months. Israel Defense Forces has called up over 300,000 reservists to ensure Hamas does not have any military capabilities to threaten or kill Israeli civilians. The high population density and population density in Gaza make it difficult and bloody fighting, with both sides taking significant casualties. Over 180,000 Palestinians in Gaza are packed into United Nations shelters, but even these shelters can be at risk during wartime.
Experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies believe that such an invasion would be difficult for the Israeli military and devastating for Palestinian civilians. While Israel is expected to try to limit civilian casualties, death tolls for both Israel and Gaza are virtually certain to increase. Israel is expected to proceed carefully with its possible invasion of Gaza, aiming to limit civilian casualties as best as possible.
Israel is considering a ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas’s military capability, according to an analysis by John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute. The invasion could last weeks or months, as it is the unavoidable nature of clearing urban terrain. Hamas is likely to rely heavily on close combat, strongpoints, and snipers, which can take days, weeks, or even months to clear.
Israel should also be concerned about the possibility that Hamas may have more sophisticated weapons and tactics, such as anti-aircraft capabilities. The Israeli military is likely to employ human shields, a strategy known to Hamas. Hamas is believed to be holding around 150 hostages. However, it is unlikely that Israel will halt everything and negotiate releases that would likely involve prisoner exchanges.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that Americans are also being held hostages by Hamas, and much of what could happen in the streets of Gaza would be captured on camera, making Israel’s decisions likely to be heavily scrutinized.
Israel faces challenges in achieving its goals in Gaza, particularly in urban warfare. Determination tends to wane as operations take longer, and time is a critical component in planning, preparing, and executing city attacks. As civilian casualties and collateral damage increase, international pressure to cease fighting is intensifying. Hamas, the de facto governing body of Gaza since 2007, has a positive view among 58% of those in Gaza.
Half of Gazans support Hamas’ proposal for a permanent two-state solution based on 1967 borders, as the group is losing popularity in key Arab states. Israel has support from many nations to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, and the U.S. is coordinating to offer safe passage for civilians. The Israeli government must decide whether to leave a weakened Hamas behind in Gaza or overthrow its administration.
Neither option is appealing, as if Hamas survives, it will claim a strategic triumph over Israel, and if overthrown, no moderate Palestinian force exists to replace it. Israel’s lack of replacement will lead to direct control over Gaza, potentially escalating Palestinian militancy, deepening Israeli society divisions, and tying up military and economic resources in an ongoing counterinsurgency campaign.